Left photo: Chile’s President-elect Gabriel Boric after winning the presidential election in Santiago, Chile, on Dec. 19. On the right is a photo taken during the last day of his campaign in Parque Almagro on Dec. 16. (Reuters/Amelia Castillo)
Former student protest leader Gabriel Boric has made history in winning Chile’s presidential election on Sunday. And among his coalition of supporters were local K-pop fans -- many of whom, armed with a strong social media presence and digital skills, flocked to support the progressive millennial in the second round of the elections.
‘Like a genius joke that went too far’
For Claudia Patino, a 27-year-old graduate student from Chile who decided to study international relations in Korea after getting into K-pop, said the influence and reach of K-pop fans had always been impressive.
“It’s actually kind of crazy. It feels a little bit like a joke that went too far. But at the same time, it’s kind of genius because you can see all the passion from the K-pop fans and how well organized they are through this campaign -- something very typical of them.”
When the far-right candidate Jose Antonio Kast came first in the first round of the elections last month, it sent many people into a panic.
“When we saw that this very conservative candidate who is anti-abortion, anti-same sex marriage was leading, I think everybody freaked out. And a way to cope with this sad reality was to make jokes and that was what took over social media,” Patino said.
On the day of the first round of the elections, memes and jokes flooded Instagram and Twitter, Patino said.
“And slowly from that point, people started to organize and that’s when the K-pop fans came in,” she said.
Weaponizing memes, TikTok and lyrics
One group, which goes by the Twitter handle Kpopers por Boric (@KpopersporBoric), began their campaign in support of Gabriel Boric by mobilizing people online and offline.
“We convened in a very organic and spontaneous way and formed a WhatsApp group of six people. We also met in person and began to plan what our mobilization would be like,” the group said in a statement.
The six people -- Susana, Constanza, Javiera, Gracia, Antonia and Maria Jose -- are working professionals and students. The group soon began utilizing their digital content creation skills to make easily shareable graphics and posts.
“We created the accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, the graphics were designed, and we brainstormed ideas about what content we should publish. First was the downloadable Fan Cheering Kit with items that can be usually found at K-Pop concerts
“We also shared content using specific hashtags, making edits of photographs and videos, to ‘clean’ or ‘take down’ hashtags that promoted hate speech and fake news by the other candidate’s supporters. We paid particular attention to the candidates’ debates on television to be ready to report such content,” the group said.
A light stick made by TikTok user OsoPrint3D (left) and photo cards of Gabriel Boric (Amelia Castillo)
Others made memes to debunk misinformation targeting Boric by making sharable memes based on his campaign promises using cute designs as well as photoshopping images of the candidate alongside their favorite K-pop idols.Mission complete?
If the goal of this collective action was to generate online engagement, the job was done. One viral TikTok video promoting Boric’s campaign while playing BTS’ hit single “Butter” has racked up over 15,000 likes, which was reposted by Boric himself, said Josefa I.S, a 23-year-old student from Chile who made the clip.
cr (twitter): edit pjmsdipia, concepto etherealanne ##Elecciones2021CL ##Boric2022 ##Boric ##bts ##BTSarmy♬ sonido original - #Boric2022
“In the first few seconds, there’s a clip from a national news channel interview which they gave him a list of celebrities and asked who he would invite to have some pizza. He responds: ‘BTS, to learn more about the phenomenon,’” she explained.
When podcaster and comedian Valeria Luna interviewed Gabriel Boric earlier this year, she talked to the then-presidential candidate about BTS and South Korean pop culture.
“We talked a lot of what the Army did with Donald Trump’s rally during his second run. I told him that Army are very powerful in the world – actually more than Chilean people in the world,” Luna said.
And as the prospect of a Kast presidency increased following the first round, Luna called on K-pop fandoms to take action in a livestream.
“I said to everyone and they took my word and started to do things like (baking) cakes for Boric and now they even have light sticks for him. It was an amazing experience,” Luna said.
As Boric enjoyed support from K-pop fandoms, his opponent Kast also put out a “K-pop-inspired” campaign song
of his own on Twitter, though it was met with a rather lukewarm reaction.
“It was a horrible effort,” said Amelia Castillo of the song, a 38-year-old college professor from Santiago who is also a fan of K-pop acts such as Super Junior and Mamamoo.
“It was an awful generic pop song in Spanish so everyone flooded his Twitter telling him this is not even K-pop, this is not even in Korean.”
Boric, however, was able to appeal to young voters through genuine interaction with multiple fandoms including those who love K-pop, anime and American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, Castillo said.
“He was able to reach a part of the teenage population. Here we can vote voluntarily since we are 18. And there were a lot of people who didn’t vote in November (during the first round).
“Lots of people went to vote in December and they discovered that they have lots of things in common with him,” she said.History of K-pop fans a political force
It is not the first time K-pop fans emerged as a political force in Chile and elsewhere.
Last year, BTS fans raised $1 million for the Black Lives Matter campaign to match the donation the group made to the organization. K-pop fans also discouraged participation in a Trump rally on social media.
In 2019, the Chilean government issued a report linking K-pop fans alongside other “international influences and media” to anti-government protests in the country.
“Since the social uprising in 2019, where K-pop fans helped spread and organize information, the Chilean public came to know our organizational skills and ability to make information go viral,” the “Kpopers por Boric” group said.
Natalia Belardy, a 32-year-old nurse in Chile, has been a K-pop fan since around 2004 when she was a big TVXQ fan. She remembers how the K-pop community was blamed during the Chilean protests in 2019.
“We rioted, we marched but it was always peaceful. But the government kind of characterized us as terrorists. We were dancing and singing doing but they only focused on the way we were blocking their social media accounts with fancams,” Belardy said.
“K-pop fans have ways to protest against something we don’t like. We comment with videos of our favorite K-pop artists,” Belardy explained.
“The way (by the Chilean government) of treating the social outbreak was kind of vain. They were always trying to blame someone for it but they were the ones to blame.”
Though having met through the common interest in K-pop, Castillo said she wanted to ensure that young people did not have to experience what she had gone through.
“Many of us, who are around my age, grew up during the Pinochet Dictatorship so we have memories from that time and we didn’t want that to happen again,” Castillo said.
“We didn’t want to go under curfews, having our right to go to the street and demonstrate taken away.”
By Yim Hyun-su (firstname.lastname@example.org